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When Patients Complain

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a talk entitled Cyberbullying: Legal Rights of Physicians Maligned on Social Media. I accepted the talk but changed the title to “When Patients Complain.” I wanted to reframe the discussion. Patients have complained about the quality (or the lack thereof) of the healthcare they receive, even before social media. Social media though has provided a platform where such complaints can get more mileage.

The conference organizers also invited a lawyer as a reactor to my presentation. I wanted him to answer the legal questions. I thought that discussing legal remedies was way at the end of the line. Maybe it was better to start at the beginning. Why do patients complain? Then, what can we do when patients complain? Because surely, physicians can’t and shouldn’t sue everyone who complains about the care they provide.

Below is my deck on

Earlier this year, pictures of health workers sleeping while on duty went viral. This led to a flurry of #NoToDoctorShaming posts.

Netizens argue that the viral photos of nurses sleeping while on duty is a symptom of a deeper problem: the overwhelming gaps in the Philippine healthcare system.

-Rappler: How #NoToDoctorShaming posts highlight gaps in PH healthcare system

In my slide deck, I quoted Reader TW et al (BMJ Qual Saf 2014;23(8):678-89) –

Patient complaints can be made without an awareness of the wider system pressures influencing care (eg. staff workloads), meaning they may not identify all of the contributing factors leading to a problem in care.

Health workers do not normally say how long they have been on duty, nor openly declare how many hours they have been sleep-derived to their patients. We all carry on and do our best to take care of our patients with none of them the wiser about our situation. And so as healthcare professionals, we feel deeply wounded when complaints due to systems issues beyond our control (such as the lack of health personnel) arise.

A paper by Jiang et al (BMJ Open 2014;4(8):e005131) looked at the barriers in managing patient complaints. These barriers can be grouped into four themes: receiving, handling and resolving complaints, and the lack of institutional changes for quality improvement using complaints data.

Let’s discuss patient complaints at the #HealthXPH tweet chat on 1 September 2018, 9 pm Manila time.

T1. In your experience as a patient or health worker, what do patients complain about?

T2. What is the procedure for handling patient complaints in your healthcare institution? Is this procedure known to all health workers and patients?

T3. How do you suggest that patient complaints posted on social media be managed?

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